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after partaking of a bowl of punch (the ostensible pretext for the
meeting), left him to take on a sofa such slumbers as, on the eve of
such an expedition, he could hope to enjoy. These were rudely
broken in upon about one in the morning by a prodigious noise and
loud colloquy at the outer door, the object of which was plainly to
effect a forcible entry. Lavalette, never doubting he was discovered,
and firmly grasping his pistols, woke his companion, who, he tells

29



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

us, went out very quietly, and after five minutes (which to Lavalettc
seemed ages) came back and said : ' It is only a dispute between the
portress and a French officer who lodges on the third floor about
letting him in at so late an hour ; so we may go to sleep again.'

There was no more sleep, however, for his guest, who got up at
six and dressed himself, and at half-past seven was called for by Sir
Robert in a general's full uniform, in Bruce's cabriolet, while Captain
Hutchinson rode alongside, both to give it the air of a pleasure
party, and that Lavalette, if hard pressed, might exchange the
carriage for a swifter conveyance. ' The weather,' says our hero in
his memoirs, 'was splendid, all the shops open, everybody in the
streets ; and, by a singular coincidence, as we passed the Greve (the
place of execution in Paris), they were setting up the gallows
customarily used for the execution in effigy of outlawed criminals.'

Numerous were the occasions on which the party were threatened
with discovery ; indeed, that one with such marked features as
Lavalette personally known, from his office, to half the postmasters
in France, and, moreover, minutely described in placards in almost
everybody's hands should have escaped detection, seems little
short of a miracle. Before they were out of Paris, they met an
English officer, all surprise at seeing a British general with whose
person he was unacquainted. The gendarmes at the gate took
a hearty stare at him ; but the ceremony of presenting arms screened
at once his profile and his life. When they met people or carriages,
Sir Robert took care to talk very loud in English, and Colonel
Losack to sit well back in the carriage, the white feather in his
regimental hat serving to divert attention from the wearer. Another
object of the same colour had, however, nearly served to betray him;
namely, a few white hairs straggling from beneath his wig, which
Sir Robert observed ere entering Compiegne, and being fortunately
provided with scissors, was enabled to act the barber's part.

Their chief peril was at the previous village of La Chapelle, where
their relay horse had been stationed at a bustling inn, about the
door of which four gendarmes were lounging, and were only got rid
of by the presence of mind of Captain Hutchinson, who, by pretend-
ing to be on the look-out for cantonments for a corps of English
troops, diverted their attention, and kept them drinking till the
others had got clear off. Their stay of some hours at Compiegne, to
await the arrival from Paris of Sir Robert's carriage, passed off
equally well, and under cloud of night it arrived safe. With post-
horses the rest of the journey could now be more expeditiously, and,
thanks to the words ' English carriage and English general,' passed
on from postilion to postilion, was at length safely performed.

At Cambrai three hours were lost at the gates by the supineness

of the English guard, who, having no orders to call up the porter,

refused to do so, and might have ruined all. At Valenciennes, the

party were three times examined, nay, their passports carried to the

30



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

commandant. A long time elapsed, and Lavalette felt as if on the
brink of shipwreck when almost in port. Luckily, it was very cold
weather (early in January), and day had scarcely dawned ; and the
officer, instead of coming to inspect the travellers, signed their pass-
ports in bed. ' On the glacis of the same town,' says Lavalette, ' an
officious douanier chose to examine if all was right. His curiosity,
however, was satisfied, and we were ere long bowling joyously along
the firm road to Mons. Now I would peep out of the little back-
window to see if we were pursued ; and then I would fix my longing,
eyes on a large building pointed out to me as the first Belgian,
custom-house, which, drive as we would, never seemed to me to get
any nearer. At length we gained it : I was out of the French
territory, and saved ! Seizing hold of the general's hands, I poured
forth, deeply moved, the whole extent of my gratitude, while he only
answered me by a quiet smile.' ' Having made at Mons every
arrangement for facilitating Monsieur Lavalette's ulterior pro-
ceedings, I returned,' says his generous deliverer, 'to Paris, from
whence I had been absent only about sixty hours.'

EXILE AND DEATH.

Lavalette was now safely sheltered in a foreign country. From
the Netherlands he proceeded to Germany, and there found a refuge
in the dominions of the king of Bavaria, though scarcely with the
willing consent of that monarch. In a remote country retreat Lava-
lette lived for years, almost forgotten by the world. The only
matter for serious regret was the absence of his affectionate wife,
the state of whose mind rendered seclusion from the world indis-
pensably necessary. The manner in which the count spent the
greater part of his time may be gathered from a touching letter
which he wrote to the Duchess of Ragusa, the wife of General "
Marmont.

' You ask me where I live, and how. I dwell on the banks of a
lake not unworthy of Switzerland, for it is five leagues long by one
broad. I have a room and a closet at the lodge of the keeper of
a forsaken chateau. My view consists of a fine sheet of water,
pretty low hills, and high mountains beyond, covered with snow.
For walks, I have wild woodlands, abounding with game, which
remain unmolested for me. My hosts are honest peasants, whose
Spartan broth and black bread I partake of with tolerable relish.
I dare not have in a servant a possible spy, so my sole companion
is a poor artist unknown to fame, who smokes all day long, and
does not know one word of my language ; but I am learning his,
and we get on very well. He wakes me every morning at six, and
we labour together till nine. After the most frugal of breakfasts, we
set to work again till noon, and after dinner from two till five. I
then read a couple of hours ; and at seven we go to walk till supper.



STORY OF LAVALETTE.

I have taught him chess, and we play till ten, when I go to my
room, but seldom to bed till one o'clock. These hours of night
are for the heart's anguish, and a host of bitter reminiscences. I
pray and weep over all those I love, and in thinking of my poor,
humbled, subjugated country.

'But I do not at all times give way to such sad thoughts. I
should be unworthy of my glorious misfortune did I not draw from
it the sweetest consolations. I often feel less thankful at having
escaped the scaffold, than for being saved from it by such generous
hearts. Wife, child, friends, domestics, nay, those noble strangers,
all combined to suffer, to sacrifice themselves ; but, thank Heaven,
ultimately to triumph in my cause. I of all mankind have no right
to complain of my fellows. Never was unfortunate being honoured
by so much devotedness and courage !

' I am so happy that you are within reach of my poor wife. You
love and appreciate her. She is not understood in a world of base
wretches, who little thought that that weak, dejected, unhappy
woman would prove too strong and bold for them all ! Oh, take
care of her, I beseech you ; watch over her, and shield her from
every sorrow ! And my poor little Josephine ; good God ! what
will become of her ? How fondly had I looked fonvard to perfecting
her education ! When I think of all this, I could beat my head
against the very walls, and dread what I may be tempted to do !
Above all, my wife ! see her often, console, and protect her if
necessary.'

It is consolatory to know that Lavalette outlived the vengeance of
his enemies. After an exile of six years, the crime of which he
stood guilty was remitted, and he was allowed to return to France
a free man. He now had the additional happiness of being per-
mitted to see his wife, and to repay by the most devoted attentions
her exertions in his behalf. The acute mental malady brought on
by anxiety and terror, under which she had for some years laboured,
seems to have gradually yielded to a deep melancholy and frequent
abstraction; 'but she remained,' says Lavalette, 'as she had ever
been, good, gentle, and amiable, and able to find enjoyment in the
country,' where for her sake he chiefly resided, pretty much for-
gotten by the world, until his death in 1830. Whether Madame
Lavalette ultimately recovered from her alienated mental condition,
we have not heard : it is, however, gratifying to learn that her
daughter Josephine, who was married to a man of worth and talent,
lived to contribute to her comfort and happiness, in that scene of
rural quiet to which she had been removed by an affectionate and
grateful husband.








RELIGIOUS- IMPOSTORS.

LL excesses are dangerous, and none perhaps more so
than an excess in devotional feeling. Of religious
excesses, originating either in imposture or the delusions
of an overheated temperament, the world has had many
lamentable examples. During the last thousand years,
there have appeared as many as twenty false Messiahs, besides an
incalculable number of persons who have presumed, with equal
impiety, to declare themselves to be prophets specially sent by God.
History abounds in accounts of these deluded beings, and of their
temporary success in working on the credulity of followers. For the
sake of general information, and, if possible, to guard simple-minded
people from being deceived by the claims of all such pretenders, we
62 i



RELIGIOUS IMPOSTORS.

present the following account of a few of the principal religious
impostors, or at least self-deceived fanatics, of modern times, com-
mencing with

MUNZER AND BOCKHOLT.

In the year 1525, amid the turmoil of the Reformation, there arose
a remarkable sect in Germany, headed by a fanatic named Thomas
Munzer, who declared himself to be an inspired prophet. The
members of the sect pretended to be the peculiar favourites of
Heaven, the chosen instruments of God to effect the millennium
reign of Christ on earth. They believed that they had familiar
personal intercourse with the Deity, that they were on an equal
footing with the prophets and apostles of old, and were armed
against all opposition by the power of working miracles. Their
pretended visions, miracles, and prophecies soon kindled the flame
of fanaticism in the minds of the peasants. Their prophet and
leader at length took the field, attended by his deluded followers,
with the intention of overturning all governments and laws, giving
as a reason that the world was now to be governed by the founder
of Christianity in person. The Elector of Saxony and other princes
raised an army to withstand the dangerous pretensions of the sect.
About five thousand were slain in battle, the leader of the mob was
executed, and the fanaticism apparently quelled.

A few years later a similar delusion was propagated in Westphalia,
a district in Lower Germany, by John Bockholt, a tailor by profession,
and a native of Leyden, in Holland hence his popular name of
John of Leyden. This man, with the aid of a few equally infatuated
zealots, began to spread his doctrines in Munster, the capital of
Westphalia, in the year 1533, and, as in all similar cases, soon
gained listeners, some of whom became believers in his pretensions.
John of Leyden, like a number of his predecessors, assumed the
character of a temporal prince. He persuaded his credulous
followers that a new spiritual kingdom was to be established, and
that Munster was to be its capital, whence laws should be sent forth
to govern all the kings of the earth. This presumptuous idea was
flattering to the mob, and the Leyden tailor gained continual acces-
sions of adherents. As he went on, even the learned, including
some monks, joined his sect, until at length he found himself power-
ful enough to venture on his great project. His followers rose
suddenly in arms, attacked and deposed the magistrates, and became
masters of the city. Immediately afterwards John of Leyden was
proclaimed king of the New Jerusalem.

We have said nothing of the doctrines or personal doings of the
man who thus got the sway of a great city containing many
thousands of people. His extravagances are almost incredible. He
married eleven wives, to shew his approbation of the polygamy



RELIGIOUS IMPOSTORS.

which prevailed in the times of other kings of Jerusalem ; and to
assimilate himself to a particular king of the Hebrews, he ran or
madly danced, without apparel, through the streets of Munster.
Other most offensive and pernicious acts were daily committed by
this mock-monarch, whom it is charity to set down as insane. He
of course saw visions and dreamt dreams in abundance. In one
dream it was communicated to him, he said, that the cities of
Amsterdam, Deventer, and Wesel were given to him as his own.
He accordingly sent disciples or bishops thither, to spread his new
kingdom. In the state of the public mind at the period, these
religious embassies were not, as they appear now, ridiculous. The
Amsterdam envoy gathered so many proselytes, that he attempted
to seize on the city. He marched his followers to the town-house on
a given day, with drums beating and colours flying. Having seized
on the house, he fixed his head-quarters there ; but the burghers
rose, and with some regular troops surrounded the fanatics ; the
whole of them were put to death in a severe manner, in order to
intimidate others of the class.

It may well be imagined that the city of Munster was in a dreadful
condition under John of Leyden, it being a doctrine of the sect that
all things should be in common among the faithful ; and they also
taught that civil magistrates were utterly useless. Hence enormous
crimes, as well as ridiculous follies, were practised continually real
enthusiasm of belief adding to the evil rather than diminishing it.
The following incident is the only one descriptive of the insane and
scandalous practices of the sect which we shall venture to record a
specimen is enough. Twelve of them met, five being women, in a
private house. One of the men, a tailor by trade, having prayed for
four hours in a sort of trance, then took off his garments, and throw-
ing them into the flames, commanded the rest to do the same. All
did so ; and the whole subsequently went out to the streets, which
they paraded, crying, ' Woe ! woe ! woe to Babylon ! ' and the like.
Being seized and taken before a magistrate, they refused to dress
themselves, saying, ' We are the naked truth ! ' Were it not for the
sequel, we might simply feel disgust at this, as the doing, possibly,
of shameless profligates. But when these very persons, instead of
being placed in lunatic asylums, were taken to the scaffold, they
sung and danced for joy, and died with all the marks of sincere
religious enthusiasm.

John of Leyden did not long enjoy the throne of Munster. Its
rightful sovereign and bishop, Count Waldeck, aided by other
petty princes of Germany, assembled an army and marched against
the city. The fanatics shut its gates and resisted ; nor was it until
after an obstinate siege that the occupants were overcome. The
mock-monarch was taken, and suffered a cruel death, with great
numbers of his wrong-headed associates.

The popular hallucination, however, did not end here. The severe

3



RELIGIOUS IMPOSTORS.

laws which were enacted after the deaths of Munzer and Bockholt,
in order to check the spread of their principles, were of no preventive
value ; perhaps the reverse. We are told by Mosheim, that imme-
diately after the taking of Munster, ' the innocent and the guilty
were often involved in the same terrible fate, and prodigious numbers
were devoted to death in the most dreadful forms.' There is proof,
too, as in the single case detailed, that even where great profligacy
characterised their peculiar course of conduct, there was often mixed
up with it such an amount of sincerity as ought to make us think of
them with pity as beings labouring under a strange delusion, rather
than blame them as persons erring under the common impulses
leading to vice. ' In almost all the countries of Europe, an unspeak-
able number of these wretches preferred death in its worst forms to
a retractation of their errors. Neither the view of the flames kindled
to consume them, nor the ignominy of the gibbet, nor the terrors of
the sword, could shake their invincible but ill-placed constancy, or
induce them to abandon tenets that appeared dearer to them than
life and all its enjoyments.' The more enlightened policy of modern
times would either leave alone such unhappy beings, or consign them
to the humane treatment of a lunatic asylum.

RICHARD BROTHERS.

Richard Brothers was born in Newfoundland in 1760, and for
several years served as a midshipman and lieutenant in the British
royal navy. In the year 1784 a reduction of the navy took place,
and he was paid off, to live for the future upon an allowance of three
shillings a day. No particular eccentricities of conduct characterised
Brothers up to the year 1790, when his understanding, according to
his own shewing, began first to be really ' enlightened ; although,' says
he, ' I had always a presentiment of being some time or other very
great.' The enlightenment took the shape of an objection to the
oath which he was obliged by form to take in receiving his half-
yearly pay, and which bears to be a ' voluntary ' attestation that the
annuitant has received the benefit of no public employment during
the term for which he draws his salary. Mr Brothers found here a
difficulty which seems really somewhat puzzling. ' I do not wish,' he
reasoned, ' to take any oath if I can possibly avoid it, and yet part of
my attestation is, that I swear voluntarily. This makes me utter
and sign a falsehood, as the oath is compulsory, my pay not being
procurable without it.' The head of the Admiralty (the Earl of
Chatham) would not depart from the ordinary form in such cases,
and Mr Brothers was left half starving, for the space of a year or so,
on the horns of this dilemma. Anxiety of mind appears to have
given the decisive bent, at this period, to his awakening fanatical
tendencies.

The next tidings which we have of Mr Brothers result from the

4



RELIGIOUS IMPOSTORS.

application, in 1791, of Mrs Green, a lodging-house keeper in West-
minster, to one of the workhouses in that district, respecting a lodger
of hers who owed her thirty-three pounds, and whom she was unable
to keep any longer, as his conscience would not allow him to draw
the pay due to him from the Admiralty. The workhouse board
pitied the poor woman, who spoke highly of the honesty, good
temper, and moral conduct of her lodger. They sent for Mr Brothers.
'His appearance,' says a writer who was present, 'prepossessed me
greatly in his favour. He seemed about thirty years of age, tall, and
well formed, and shewed in his address and manner much mildness
and gentility.' He answered questions calmly, though his replies
were all tinctured with fanaticism. The issue was, that the board
took him off Mrs Green's hands for a time, and stated the case fully
to the Admiralty ; which body, on the score of the eccentricities
deposed to by the widow, granted the pension to Mr Brothers for the
future without the oath.

Richard Brothers, comparatively easy in worldly circumstances,
now came before the world as a prophet. He did not publish his
'great' works till 1794; but long before that time his prophetic
announcements had been spread abroad, and he had made a mighty
stir in the world. His house was constantly filled by persons of
quality and fortune, of both sexes, and the street crowded with their
carriages. There was at least one member of parliament, Nathaniel
Brassey Halhed, a gentleman known as a profound oriental scholar,
and author of some highly valued compositions, who openly espoused
the views and cause of Brothers, sounding his praises in the British
senate, and supporting him by learned dissertations from the press.
Oxford divines did not disdain to enter the field as opponents of the
new prophet; scores of pious enthusiasts 'testified 'in his favour;
thousands trembled at his denunciations of woe ; and, in short,
Richard Brothers became, what he 'had always a presentiment of
being some time or other a very great man.'

To glance at the mass of absurdities blasphemous in the extreme,
if viewed as the outpourings of mental sanity which men thus
allowed to arrest their attention, excites a sense alike of the painful
and ludicrous. That the man was neither more nor less than a
confirmed lunatic, appears on the face of every chapter. If there
was any admixture of imposture in the case, certainly self-delusion
was the prevailing feature. The following selections, which, so
far from being the most gross specimens of his ravings, are only
such as may without impropriety be set down here, will satisfy every
reader of the diseased organisation of the prophet's head. He calls
his work, which appeared in two books, A Revealed Knowledge
of the Prophecies and Times, with a further heading which could
scarcely be repeated. He had found out in his visions that his
ancestors had been Jews, though ' separated from that race for fifteen
hundred years, such a length of time as to make them forget they

5



RELIGIOUS IMPOSTORS.

ever belonged to the name.' The discovery of his Hebrew descent
was an essential point, as the prophet was to be the ' prince and
restorer of the Jews by the year 1798.' Absurd enough as this
assumed genealogy was, what term should be applied to the further
assumption, defended by Mr Halhed in parliament, of such a
descent as to render him ' nephew ' to the Divine Being !

One of Brothers's more important prophecies was, that London
would be destroyed in 1791; and will it be credited that such a
piece of nonsense should at the time have created great uneasiness
in the minds of many persons in the metropolis ? To finish the
farce, London was not destroyed at the time predicted ; but that only
gave the prophet grounds for self-laudation : it was saved by his
interposition ! He describes minutely what the state of things
would otherwise have been, in order, no doubt, to make the sense
of the escape stronger. ' London would have formed a great bay
or inlet of the channel ; all the land between Windsor and the
Downs would have been sunk, including a distance of eighteen
miles on each side, to the depth of seventy fathoms, that no traces
of the city might be ever found.'

Mr Brothers had many visions of solid temporal power and
honours. In a vision he was shewn ' the queen of England coming
towards me, slow, trembling, and afraid. This was communicated
to William Pitt in the month called June 1792.' In another vision
he saw the English monarch rise from the throne, and humbly send
him ' a most magnificent star.' What this meant the prophet could
not at first tell, but it was ' revealed ' to signify that entire power was
given to him over the majesty of England. A letter describing the
vision, ' with others to the king, queen, and chancellor of the
exchequer were put into the penny post-office, to be sent by that con-
veyance, according to the directions I received on that head by reve-
lation.' But Brothers was still more direct in his announcements to
the king of his coming fall. In his book he plainly says : ' I tell you,
George the Third, king of England, that immediately on my being
revealed in London to the Hebrews as their prince, and to all nations
as their governor, your crown must be delivered up to me, that all
your power and authority may instantly cease.' The ' revelation '
spoken of was to be effected openly and visibly. ' I am to take a
rod and throw it on the ground, when it will be changed into a
serpent ; to take it in my hand again, when it will be re-changed
into a rod.'

Can it be possible that ravings such as these, which are among
the least objectionable in the book, brought carriages full of admiring
people of quality to the door of Richard Brothers, and were defended
by a learned senator of Britain less than eighty years ago ? That
they did so is undeniable ; and here lies the apology for yet holding



Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 48 of 58)